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SVG Sit-Down: BHV's Chris Bevilacqua on the Potential Impact of Coronavirus on Sports-Media Rights Landscape


SVG Sit-Down: BHV's Chris Bevilacqua on the Potential Impact of Coronavirus on Sports-Media Rights Landscape The sports industry has prioritized public health over their own commercial self-interest' By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Monday, March 30, 2020 - 3:25 pm

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With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the sports world to a halt, questions about the long-term impact on the sports-media industry are still to be answered. To provide insight into what the coming months and years may hold for the business, SVG is sitting down with several top sports-media executives and veterans to share their thoughts on the current situation.

Over the past 30 years, Chris Bevilacqua has established himself as a leader in the sports and media business. As co-founder of Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures (BHV), he has consulted on a slew of record-breaking sports-media rights deals. In addition, he was architect of the Pac-12 Conference media strategy and helped to launch Pac-12 Networks. He also pioneered other college-specific channels, including CSTV (the first-ever 24-hour cable network dedicated to college sports) and the MountainWest Sports Network. Prior to these efforts, Bevilacqua was chairman and CEO of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) Sports Media Ventures, serving as a media-rights advisor for several sports and entertainment entities.

Chris Bevilacqua: All these loyal, passionate audiences who are being deprived of their passion over a fairly lengthy period will have some pent-up excitement.

SVG sat down with Bevilacqua late last week to discuss the short- and long-term impact of coronavirus on the industry, how he sees future rights deals playing out, and what the future holds for college sports and regional sports networks.

How do you see the coronavirus pandemic affecting the sports-media business over the next six-12 months?

The immediate impact is obviously not good. Many industries are just shut down, including sports. But the good thing is, I think everybody in the sports industry has prioritized public health over their own commercial self-interest. This industry's doing everything it can do to protect fans, athletes, and employees and worrying about the commercial fallout afterwards.

That said, obviously, if you're not staging events and games, you're not collecting revenue from ticket sales, sponsorship, and media [rights], and that's a substantial lost commercial opportunity. I think we're going to have a period of choppy waters - not for weeks but for months - where we don't know exactly how and when this is going to settle out. And there are a lot of things commercially that are going to be degraded between now and whenever that is. The question then becomes, when things are back up and running, can the economy come back? Do people have a job, and are they willing to go buy a ticket or merchandise like they had in the past?

I don't have a crystal ball, but I am a glass-half-full kind of guy. What I do know as it relates to the sports industry is that the partners on all sides have very solid relationships. In most cases, the owners of the major properties and their commercial partners have been partners for a long time, and, when everything settles out, they'll sit down as partners and work out what's in the best interest of everyone going forward.

In your experience, do major rights deals typically have an out clause for rightsholders if games aren't played?

It's not really one-size-fits-all. These are things that are typically very customized in terms of acts of God, natural disasters, and force majeure. Obviously, you have to address these sorts of unforeseeable events in any kind of a contractual commitment, especially when they are the size and scope of these big properties. And then, everybody has their own set of insurance policies as well, which will play a big role for both sides. In some cases, there's very specific language for loss of games or seasons, and sometimes there isn't. I think there will be a variety of factors coming together depending on the agreement, and it's certainly not going to be the same for everyone.

We have seen the value of live sports coverage skyrocket over the past three decades. Do you believe this situation will cause the sports-rights media bubble to pop?

No, I really don't think so. I think this is going to be a short-term issue - albeit a very painful short-term issue. But, when you start talking about the new cycle of rights, I think you're going to see the values continue to grow. First one up is the NFL, and they're gearing up [for negotiations] right now. Whatever happens, there will be a pretty good barometer of what's to come. An event like this is not going to change the demand for the NFL product over the next 10 years. I truly don't think it will have any meaningful commercial effect on valuable sports rights.

I think it is a unique, unforeseen event that won't change any of the major trends in media. Now, it may accelerate some of those trends. Obviously, there's already a transition going on from traditional media to digital, mobile, and OTT consumption of live sports. I think that will continue unabated. I think high-reach platforms like broadcast TV will still be incredibly important. And, even though cable TV is shrinking in terms of its reach, it is still very meaningful. So I don't see that changing dramatically in the next few years through this next cycle of rights.

Do you believe this situation will have an impact on the rise of legalized sports betting in the near term?

I think the market forces are going to accelerate sports gambling. There is going to be a big hole in local, state, and federal government budgets. And, with the interest in sports betting spreading
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